By the time the Miami Heat play another playoff game, they will have had 7 complete days off without a game, while their opponent will be finishing a 7-game series with 1 day of rest and preparation.
The Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets will complete their series on Saturday night in Brooklyn, finally revealing who the Heat will match up with in the second round. We have learned from practice that the Heat have been doing conditioning and fundamentals to keep themselves fresh and ready to go, but without a clear opponent, it is hard to prepare. Even without an opponent in clarity, Spoelstra has still made practice important.
"Right now, we're working on conditioning and doing a lot of things fullcourt, playing, making sure we keep our wind. You can't simulate the physicality of necessarily what you'll face in the playoffs, but you can still drill and have contact, a fully padded, mouth-guard type practice."
One thing is for sure, whoever the Heat play it will be difficult and a grind. The players said so themselves.
LeBron James said, "I think both teams create matchups problems for anyone they play. With Chicago, their ability to rebound, their ability to continue to just play defense and grind out games. And then with Brooklyn, with big Brook and D-Will, and Joe and those other guys are playing well, too."
Both the Nets and the Bulls play a physical game. Brook Lopez, Gerald Wallace, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah will all give some types of problems in their physical play towards the Heat. Both teams ranked in the bottom half of the league in points scored for the regular season, with Chicago being second to last. They like to grind it out, Chicago more than Brooklyn. Both teams were top 10 rebounding teams for the regular season, where the Heat finished last.
Deron Williams, Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson are all point guards that can really give Miami trouble. Williams is just a good point guard who can score, split the defense and distribute. Robinson just loves to kill the Heat in a number of ways and Hinrich's defensive pressure has always been a thorn in Miami's side.
The Bulls gave the Heat plenty of problems this year. Not only being one of 4 teams to win in Miami, but also ending their 27 game win streak. The Nets didn't as much, as Miami won all 3 match-ups, but haven't played them since January.
The Nets and Bulls against Miami offer some different challenges as well. Chicago's defensive game plan is much more sophisticated than the Nets. They have the ability to really get after the Heat's greatest strengths and neutralize them. The Bulls play the type of non-stop gritty defense it takes to beat the Heat if Miami is not fully locked in.
But the Nets have something the Bulls don't. And that is a clear closer. Joe Johnson has made it obvious this season that the ball should be in his hands when the game is on the line. He makes good decisions and is able to hit the big shot. Johnson, although not a playoff hero in years past is capable of really impacting plays because of his shot making ability. The Nets have guys like Johnson and Williams who they can turn to with the shot clock winding down to create on their own.
Meanwhile, the Bulls offer the drama factor that can't come any better anywhere in the league. A Heat-Bulls match-up would elevate the hype of a continual watch on the Derrick Rose return. Rose has been practicing, playing, and warming up since March, as he has been cleared to play. But he is reluctant to play until he is 100% mentally and physically. Adding Rose to the Bulls changes everything. And the pressure will only build if the Bulls play the Heat.
I believe the Bulls would have the confidence that they can beat the Heat, where Brooklyn's lack of success might hinder them. Regardless, both these teams are beating each other up right now. Kirk Hinrich is severely hobbles, and Noah is still playing through injury even though he is effective.
Overall, the Bulls and Nets are similar teams on the outide, but offer distinct challenges for the Heat. The Heat will be ready. Coach Spoelstras has said that they have watched every minute of the Nets and Bulls series and will continue to do so. Dwyane Wade is getting much needed rest that is unusual in the middle of the playoffs. And to them, they don't care who they play.
The Nets and Bulls play Game 7 on Saturday night and Game 1 of the Heat vs Nets/Bulls will be on Monday night.
Hot Hot Hoops will be your home to offer complete previews, insight and analysis as the series unfolds.